Wow! Here we are at the end of 2019, 4 years of business, and still going strong!
This year has been filled with Hello's to new clients, Goodbye to some old clients, and welcome to having enough success to make the choice. There was a time when I accepted any and all work, but now, I make the conscious decision to work with clients who I believe I can help the most. It is not about quantity, it is about quality. If the work is not in my wheelhouse, I say no, and refer to other colleagues who have better knowledge and resources than myself.
Moving towards being a Part-time Controller for Full-time companies, I am evaluating my inventory of clients to ensure we are still a good fit. I truly enjoy meeting with clients on a regular basis. Discussing their financial statements, cash flow, business goals, advertising and marketing, human resources, and everything in between, gets my CPA experience flowing. I enjoy being a "business coach" for my clients. Especially, working with clients throughout the year, and not just at year end. As well, these clients have seen the greatest success in their companies, and continue to grow.
More importantly, I know my value. I know what I can bring to the table, but at the same time, I'm not going to try to continually convince a client of my value. I let their financial numbers speak for themselves. A great boss said to me when I had handed in my resignation to their company "I don't try to convince employees to stay, because if they have made the choice to leave, there is no point in convincing otherwise". This is true for your clients as well. I'm not going to beg you to stay. If you have made the choice to leave, or if I see that the fit is no longer agreeable, I will let you know and terminate my services in a professional manner. Business is business and I don't take losing a client personally. I will always do the best that I can do, and if they want to leave, they are more than welcome to find another Accountant!
For me, 2019 has been my most successful because I:
1 - Know my Value;
2 - Know when to say No;
3 - Know when to say Yes!
For everybody who has supported me over the last 4 years, I want to say thank you! As well, for all of the individuals who are thinking of taking the self-employed route, make the next decade your START! I say it all the time, I don't think I could ever be an employee again. YOU have the opportunity to make the change. Take it. Try it. Do it.
Marketing. Simple or complex, it is a necessary part of growing your business. Here are some myths that can be overcome with some simple Marketing Solutions.
Myth #1 - Figuring out where to Market is Hard
A photographer that I know was recently developing a portfolio of videos to enhance her services that she provides. She created a video of her child's preschool Christmas party. She shared it with the rest of the preschool parents through email. Some parents enjoyed her video and contacted her to use her services. So, from a video she was creating for her own memories, she developed new business and new revenues, from a relatively low amount of investment on her part.
Moral of the story - Marketing does not have to be complicated. It can be as simple as contacting your own network. Keep your message consistent, and the new business will find you.
Myth #2- Marketing is Expensive
Another business that I know is trying to develop his renovation business. He has been advertising at the back of a local newspaper. He has now stopped, as this advertising has produced few leads. He does not have a website. He does not have a business Instagram or Facebook account, but he has a personal account for both.
Moral of the story - Marketing does not have to be expensive. Taking photos of the work that you have completed and posting your story to your social media accounts are vital to growing new business. If you are able to open a personal social media account, learn to open your business social media accounts. This is the digital age. If you are going to do paper advertising, make sure you have your digital stories to back it up.
Myth #3 - You can Only Market at Networking Events
I am marketing my business all the time. You do not have to attend a networking event to market your business. Business cards are the easiest way to market your business. I hand out my business cards all the time. Even if a person is not looking for my services, I give them my business card because you never know where your next client is going to come from. My business card is unique, and has a story. I also use my business card in my client packages that I provide when my services are completed. It is part of my brand. It is part of the message that I want to project about my company.
Moral of the story - Hand out your business cards everywhere. Make sure your information is up to date. Also, ensure your business cards are consistent with your brand. You don't need a logo to have a business card, you just need to have a business card!
Myth #4 - My Personal Social Media Brand does not matter to my Business Brand
When you own your business, your personal brand is the SAME AS your business brand. Many times, I have seen small business owners who make comments on a Community Facebook page, that make me not want to support their small business. It may be your opinion, but your personal opinions are now tied to your business. Especially when you advertise your business in this same Facebook group!
Moral of the story - Your opinion is your opinion and that's fine. However, be aware of how your personal opinions, are now part of your personal brand. If your personal brand is not consistent with your business brand, you will lose new business.
These are just a few simple marketing techniques you can use to grow your business. Always remember - You are the Brand for your Small Business. Be Consistent and you can make your Small Business work for you.
Today, I attended the Art of Leadership conference in Vancouver. The headline speaker was former Vice President, Joe Biden, who along with the other speakers, spoke about the value of Leadership.
There were many highlights to the day. What I really enjoyed was getting sound bites from each speaker. All of which helps in my learning and improvement of being a better Leader. Although I do not have any employees, working with Small Business Owners requires me to flex my Leadership skills.
Lead by the power of your example, not by the example of your power - Joe Biden
This quote reminded me of a conversation I had with my Dad the other day. With all of the companies I have ever worked for or worked with, one common denominator in determining the culture, was tone from the top. You can't expect your employees to do something, if you are unwilling to do the same thing yourself. You may have the title, but if you don't have the trust of your team, your business will not last.
Also, you need to be willing to hear about the good and the bad. Having a bunch of employees who simply agree with everything you say, does not make you a good Leader. There will be times when you will not be everybody's buddy, and that is okay. You will need to make decisions that not everybody will like, and that is okay. Good Leaders accept the moment when decisions are made for the better of the business.
As a business owner, you have the ability to be the Leader in your business. Learn to be the Leader you were meant to be, and the business will follow.
On the eve of the first day of another school year, I thought I would take a moment to reflect on the end of another summer.
Summer is the time of year when you can't help but slow down. There is no schedule. Days last for longer than any other time of the year, so you tend to stay up later, and get going later. When the sun is shining, you just have to take the day off.
Admittedly, I followed the lazy days of summer. I kept up with my deadlines, but did not actively pursue new business until August. I would take a day off during the week, and spend the day with the kids. There is a time for go, go, go and there is a time to stop and enjoy the view. What's the point of having a good life if you can't stop to enjoy it?
I would say to any Small Business Owner, you need to take time to enjoy the fruits of your labours. There are many studies that demonstrate why taking a vacation is a good idea. Most importantly, for myself, it is helpful in my productivity. If I am burnt out, I will not be a good Accountant.
So to all the students, good luck in your next school year. To all of the Small Business Owners, keep learning and keep working towards success in your business and your life.
When you are your own boss, sometimes the line between work and play gets blurry, and it might seem like you are working all of the time. Here are some tips that I use to get back to working during work hours, and playing during play hours.
Make your Clients Aware of your Office Hours
When I meet new clients for a consultation, I make them aware of my usual office hours. There are certain times of the year that I have unusual hours, but they are not the norm, they are the anomaly. When you make your clients aware of what time they should expect you to be available, they will follow. It is too easy to be available 24/7 between phone and email. Set the expectation and good clients will appreciate your boundaries.
Not Answering the Phone Past My Office Hours
I could tell you that I put my phone in a basket at the front door as soon as my family is home, but that would be an alternative fact. Instead, if a client calls me past what I have made my office hours, I do not answer. I do not check the voicemail until I am in my office the next day. I do not answer or send texts past my office hours. I am not a Doctor, and nobody is dying! The work will be there the next day. So put your phone away, and take a moment to relax and unwind.
Take a Walk
Fortunately, every school day, I stop to walk and pick up my kids from school. During that walk, I will listen to a podcast, or music, or just the silence. It is amazing what two 10 minute walks can do for my productivity. I am refreshed, and if required, able to work a couple more hours when I get home.
Take Days Off. Take Long Weekends. Just Take some Time Off!
Everybody needs down time. When you are go, go, go, sooner or later, you will experience burnout. You will no longer enjoy your business. You will no longer have the energy to keep going. Your body will tell you sooner than your brain. Just stop. Take that day off. Take that week off. Take that Stat Holiday off. Nobody is going to take that Gold Star away because you were not working 365 days of the year!
What to do, do you ask? Enjoy your life. Enjoy time with your friends. Enjoy time with your family. Go to a concert. Go to the beach and listen to the ocean. Go to a park. Read a book. Travel and experience a different place. Go, and do anything, anything at all, but work! Invest in your play time and you will see positive results in your business.
In business, and in life, obstacles arise. Decisions have to be made.
As a business owner, you need to be 10 steps ahead. You need to expect the unexpected. When you know what your numbers are, you can make decisions in financing. You can make decisions in hiring. You can make decisions in building your business.
I have seen a few times in the last little while, the importance of having Notice to Reader ("NTR") financial statements. If you don't know what a NTR financial statement is, it is literally a Notice to the Reader that the financial statements were prepared without any audit or review of the numbers. There is no assurance provided and it is based on the numbers provided by management. It may seem like an unnecessary expense at the time. Your accounting software statements provide enough information for you to make that corporate tax filing, so why need more? However, there comes a time when financing is required. Most banks and leasing companies will usually require, at a minimum, NTR financial statements. Also, the bank might further require your most recent personal income tax return.
Be proactive instead of reactive. Getting financial statements prepared is an investment in your business. It is a report that can provide you a guide of how your business has done in the last year. It can be used to compare to future and prior years. Why wait until you need financing to have NTR financial statements prepared?
Also, NTR financial statements make you evaluate what is sitting as an asset, liability and equity on your balance sheet. You can evaluate the ratios that your bank is going to consider in the assessment of your company for financing - Debt to Equity, Working Capital, and others. When you have more than one year of NTR financial statements, you can compare your profit and loss, and the changes in your revenues, cost of goods sold, and expenses. You can evaluate your Gross Margin, EBITDA, and other income statement ratios.
When you know your numbers, you have a bit of power in negotiations, because you have knowledge. You may not get everything you want, but you may be able to negotiate the monthly payment, the interest rate, the length of the lease, or even getting the lease or financing in the first place!
Take that first step in your 10 steps ahead of the game. Get NTR financial statements prepared, and make that investment in your business today.
Recently a client came to me in a panic, as the dreaded message of "the contract has gone to tender" had come down the pipe. Usually it would not matter as this business deals with many customers. However, when this customer is the most lucrative customer for this client, decisions need to be made. So what next?
First of all, make decisions in a place of peace, not a place of panic. Going to end of the world, "end of my business", "end of my life" scenarios is not going to help. There are always options. I find writing a list of all of my options helps put my mind at ease as to what are the next steps. Usually I will include a worst case scenario, and realize that really it is not the end of the world, it is not the end of the business, and it is not the end of my life.
Everything is Figureoutable - Marie Forleo
Secondly, start hustling. Hustle for new customers. Improve relationships with your current customers. Find ways to make that revenue that you are losing. Sometimes you will find that losing your best customer opens a new door. Maybe find some new revenue streams that you were not attempting because you were so busy with that one customer. Put it out there to your current customers that you appreciate their business AND their referrals. You have nothing to lose, so letting others know you are open for new business will never hurt your current business.
Finally, just because a contract is put out to tender, does not mean you have lost. If you do nothing, then nothing will come back in return. Talk to the decision makers in that company and explain to them how your company can benefit their business more than anybody else. If you are the higher price, talk to them about your excellent customer service, speed, years of service of working with the company, and other strengths that is of benefit to them. At least going out with a fight will give you peace of mind that you did everything you could to keep that customer.
Losing your best customer is tough, but it does not mean all is lost. Take a moment. Breathe. Evaluate and Take Action.
Today I learned that a Partner that I used to work for died a couple of months ago.
There are many memories I have of my time working at this small firm. It was like a family. Anybody who has worked in public practice knows how many hours, days, nights, and weekends that you spend at work during tax season. It is a long haul to say the least.
With this Partner, the focus was audits. I remember it was my first time out of the office for fieldwork. I was a very Junior Accountant, and he was out in the field with me. He was patient, and took the time to teach me what I needed to look into at this audit, what the paperwork meant, but most importantly, how you needed to communicate with the client to get the whole story. I was so nervous, and wanted to make a good impression as I was the firm's first Co-Op student. What I remember most is that he never held the title of Partner over my head. He never treated me any different than he treated anybody else. From Admin staff, to Junior Accountant, to his fellow Partners, everybody was part of the same team. He was a leader who did not get stuck on his Title. Of all of the clients that I worked with over the years that were his client, they always spoke very highly of him, and appreciated his knowledge and skill.
The thing is, we as CPAs learn lots of information, spend many years in schooling and articling to gain our designation. However, if you don't know how to communicate that knowledge to the client, you are no further ahead of the game. The numbers are only half of the story. The other half is found in conversation with the client. It is a skill that you build over time, and for me, am trying to constantly improve.
So, to you RM, I say thank you for teaching me to be a better leader. To believe in myself, believe in my skills as a CPA, but most importantly, believe that we are all just people who are trying to get a job done.
So you've done the work, now you are waiting for the money. Some clients will make you wait longer than others. Some clients may not pay you at all. But have no fear my small business dear. Here are some tips to getting money in your bank, rather than as a bad debt:
The faster you send an invoice for your services, the faster you will get paid. Anytime that I work with companies, getting out invoices is the priority. Setting aside time to invoice on a weekly basis, will ensure cash flowing 30 days later (if 30 days are your terms) on a weekly basis.
Review Receivables on a Consistent Basis
Every time I enter a payment received from a customer, I look at any invoices that are still outstanding. Ensuring the payments that you receive are as up to date as the invoices you are sending out, gives you the knowledge to which customers need to be contacted today, and not tomorrow. You will lose precious time if you are not keeping track of the money that is coming in. Once you know an account is delinquent, you can contact the customer to find out when your payment will be coming.
Contact, Contact, and Contact Again
In real estate, it is location, location, location. In collections, it is contact, contact, and contact again. You can start with a friendly reminder of an invoice that is coming due. Once a customer is past their terms, send an email stating the invoices are overdue, and when will they be sending payment. Keep contacting if there is no response. Usually, your customer will come through and send the money you are due.
Send Any Information when Requested
Having your invoices and any backup in digital format, makes providing information very quickly a whole lot easier. There are times when email does mysterious things and your customer may not have received your original invoice. That's fine, send it again.
There are also times when a particular customer does this every time you are looking for payment. Then you have a good idea it is a stall tactic. We will call them the "Staller". The Staller will also make the statement that they just put the payment in the mail. Or it must have been lost in the mail. Or the payment will be sent out at the end of the week. Regardless, you need payment and once you receive the payment, you need to make a decision of whether it is worth keeping the Staller. Because your time is worth money, and if you are spending it on getting money from a Staller, is it worth the business in the first place? Usually not.
Work smarter, not harder for your money. Keeping on top of the money coming in is one way to ensure the success of your business.
365 days. It is amazing how what seems like so many days, is in other terms, 1 year.
So, I have learned a lot over this past year, and here are some of the highlights:
Keep a pile of those snazzy business cards handy, because you never know where your next client is going to come from. Leaving your business cards in a box in your office will get you nowhere. Network everywhere. Specific meetings, Facebook, going out with friends, whatever, whenever. Have your elevator pitch with your headline phrase, and you are ready to roll.
Get Advice from Other Business Owners
Meet up with other business owners in the same industry and pick their brain on the good, bad, and the ugly of owning your own business. You are not alone in this journey, and you have to ask for help, especially at the start. What you learn will be invaluable, and saved me a lot of time and energy in how much I wanted to charge, what services to provide, and what software and equipment to use to get started.
Have your Own Vetting System
Even if you get a referral from a trusted source, you still need to put in place your own vetting system. Ask the hard questions to the potential client at the beginning. This will save you time and money you could lose, if you have to deal with a client that you don't want to be a part of your business. At the end of the day, you determine who is going to be a part of your business, not the other way around.
Trust your Gut
After your vetting system is put in place, you will know if you are going to connect or not, with a potential client. Trust your intuition, it is there for a reason. You don't need to always say yes. For me, I go back to my vision of where I want my business to go, and who I want to go with me. If it is a situation I am not comfortable with, I say no, and move on to finding where I will say yes.
I remember an Economics professor asking our class if any of us were Doctors. Everybody started looking at each other and thought he had lost his mind [which of course nobody mentioned within ear shot as it was the beginning of the semester]. Then he said "Good, because if nobody is a Doctor, nobody is dying, and you don't need your cell phone for this class." I think this is true for anytime in life...as long as you are not a Doctor of course! If you want that elusive work/life balance, you have to prioritize your life in that equation. If you are checking your email all the time, and responding at all hours and all days, well of course that balance will be gone. Is your business going to die today because you didn't respond to that client? No. Set boundaries with your clients from the start. Let them know what you will offer, when you are available, and for the most part, they will oblige. If they don't, then you need to go back to the question of if this is the type of client you want for your business. Stand by your choices, and the clients will follow.
Being a business owner has been a lesson in realizing that I have the ability to be accountable to myself. I don't need a timesheet, or recovery rates, or budgets to know that I am making a difference in my client's business.
Entrepreneur, bike spinner, and resident of beautiful Steveston, BC.